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My Take: 5 biblical passages for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry
What parts of the Bible do candidates really follow?
August 16th, 2011
10:57 AM ET

My Take: 5 biblical passages for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

The audience booed when columnist Byron York asked U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at the Republican presidential debate last week, if, as president, she would be “submissive to her husband.”

That question would have been out of order if she had excluded her evangelical Protestant faith from her presidential campaign. But she has made her faith as a Bible believer central to that campaign, so voters have a right to know which parts of the Bible she really believes in, and which parts (if any) she ignores.

Unfortunately, we cannot ask God whether He has in fact called Bachmann to be president, but we can ask her to interpret what she affirms to be the Word of God.

The same goes for Texas Governor Rick Perry, who earlier this month led “The Response,” a prayer and fasting event at a Houston football stadium that had the look and feel of an evangelical revival.

So here are my five Bible quotations for the two Republican presidential candidates now vying most vociferously for the evangelical Protestant vote.

1.  “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands” (Colossians 3:18).

Should female presidents submit to their first husbands? As it should be obvious to anyone who saw this portion of the debate, Bachmann did not answer this question. She said she respected her husband. She said he respected her. But the question was about submission, not respect.

When John F. Kennedy was running for president, some voters were worried about whether, as president, he would take his marching orders from someone else. That someone else was not Jacqueline Onassis but the pope.

In a famous speech delivered on September 12, 1960, in Houston, he answered the question clearly and definitely. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President - should he be Catholic - how to act.”

He also drew a sharp distinction between his private religious views and his public political views, pledging that his private faith would have no bearing on his actions as president. “Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views - in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates.”

I would like to know whether Bachmann will say the same about her evangelical Protestantism. If her husband tells her to veto a bill, will she submit to him? Is there any separation for her, as there was for Kennedy, between her private religious doctrines (in this case, that wives should be submissive to their husbands) and her public responsibilities (to act as "the decider")?

2. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

When I watched Perry’s performance at “The Response,” this Bible quote came to mind. I would like to know what he thinks of it.

Should Christians make a show of praying in public? This passage at least would seem to say no. In fact, it seems to say that when you pray you should go into your room and shut the door before addressing God. But perhaps I am misreading it. Either way, I would like for Perry to tell me what he makes of this Bible passage. And Bachmann, too, while we are at it.

3.  “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

Part of the Ten Commandments, this passage has been used by many social conservatives to argue against Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. After all, if God said, “Thou shalt not kill” then why are we taking lives inside the womb?  But if God said, “Thou shalt not kill” then why are we allowing capital punishment?

I would like to hear from both Perry and Bachmann about how they read this passage, and how it can simultaneously justify opposition to abortion rights and support for the death penalty. (During his term as Texas governor, Perry has overseen 234 executions. Bachmann's position on the issue is unclear.)

4.  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25).

This famous quotation, which appears in parallel form in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, arises when Jesus is asked a "gotcha" question about paying taxes to the Roman government. It has been read in various ways by various Christians.

Nonetheless, Jesus seems to be drawing a clear distinction here between religious and secular authority - a distinction that neither Perry nor Bachmann appears to see.

Admittedly, neither of these candidates agrees with the famous metaphor of Thomas Jefferson famous metaphor of a “wall of separation between church and state” but does either see a line of demarcation of any sort - a picket fence, perhaps - between “what is Caesar’s” and “what is God’s”?

5.  “Blessed are the poor" (Luke 6:20).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). In Luke, he says, more simply, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

This Lukan passage is a key source in the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church for the so-called “preferential option for the poor”—the notion that Christian communities have a particular responsibility to take care of the poor in their midst.

How do Perry and Bachmann read this passage? Did Luke mess up by leaving out "in spirit"? Or did Jesus really say "Blessed are the poor"? And if he did say that, what did he mean by it? Do his words carry any meaning for us today, and to the way we craft our federal budget?

I have more quotations, of course, but these five will do for now.

I presume both candidates will acknowledge that these passages are, in fact, in the Bible. And I take it for granted that, as self-professed Bible-believing Christians, they believe these passages are true. But what truths do they teach? And what import, if any, do those truths have on their public policies?

I understand the impulse to draft Jesus into your political campaign. At least in U.S. politics, Jesus is good for business. But if you are going to call Jesus to your side, you need to let voters know how that affects your politics. Might you change your mind if you saw that a political position of yours was contradicted by the Bible? Or is the Bible a dead letter, useful for invoking divine authority but never for correction or reprove?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Bachmann • Bible • Christianity • Politics • Rick Perry • United States

soundoff (1,020 Responses)
  1. RealityCheck

    Primitive superstations and imaginary friends along with ancient books of recycled fairy tales have no business even being considered for anything related to government service. Keep your ignorance in the tax shelters and household where it belongs, not in government. If you fundamentalist extremists are too dense to understand this, look to Iran to see what your culture of stupidity creates when your cancerous ignorance becomes government. The labels don't matter, it's all the same brutal attack on intelligence and progress and freedom and liberty.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Ari

      Alleluis brudda. How coe these idiot fundamentalist believe in fair tales such as burning bushes, Jonah livong in the belly of a whale, a man walking on water and turning water in to wine and then laugh at Islamic terrorists blowing themselves up for 72 virgins goats in heaven.

      To me these clowns are first cousins cut off the same cloth.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Faith

      @Ari, there are no virgin goats in Heaven, but the Bible was indeed written in the style those self-smart Americans can never get the meaning and stay in their self-imposed darkness. Atheists never read the whole text of anything anyway. Atheism = refusal to learn or think

      August 17, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • SilentBoy741

      We're all laughing because because all the terrorists in heaven get the same 72 virgins. Line forms on the right, fellas.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • Dean

      Well said!

      August 17, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • Isolate

      @Faith

      Several recent studies by research organizations, among them Biblical Archaeology Review and Pew International, have revealed that atheists and agnostics have a more substantial knowledge and understanding of the Bible than True Believers. I long ago accepted atheism as my personal savior, yet half my extensive personal library is made up of Biblical scholarship and religious works. The mistake True Believers make is to assume that absence of faith is absence of knowledge. Those of us outside the congregation find religious belief a fascinating subject and are eager to learn as much as we can about this curious practice and why it affects so many otherwise intelligent people. One doesn't have to be a clam to have an interest in bivalve malacology; nor does one need religious faith to study religions.

      I have also read as many of the sacred texts of other religions as I can find, something a True Believer would not, as a rule, do, since they have found the One True Religion, just as the followers of all other religions have.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Sean

      Isolate is absolutely correct. Many of said studies have ended up this very site. But hey.. who needs facts when you’ve got Faith.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  2. Sciguy

    How about Thou shalt not steal? Whether it is a masked burglar, or the federal govt, anyone who takes my money to give to someone else is violating this clear command given by God.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Frogist

      @sciguy: Of course! Because we want to base tax policy on the Bible. Some people will do anything to get out of doing their fair share.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  3. Faith

    Those 5 Bible passages have nothing con-tro-vertial or con-tra-dictory. One only needs some comprehensive Bible study. Yeah, Jesus sells in USA; the reason religion-illietare secularists can teach religions in American universities. What a shame. Liberal professors are more detrimental to Americans than any politicians are.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      And you quote Psalm 139 as though it allows killing in war, which it does not. I'll take the well-read secularist over the religious spin master anyday.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Sean

      Show me the verse that says: Don’t take this literally but…

      August 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  4. RightTurnClyde

    Even though the 2012 election has begin it is going to be a non-event. The Republicans are in disarray. Obama will win by default. SO it doesn't matter much what anybody says or anybody thinks. It's done – stick a fork in it.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Sciguy

      Sorry Clyde, I'm afraid he's a one-termer. He's clearly despised by virtually all repubs and teabaggers, and he has utterly disappointed his base by caving on issues important to them. He will not only lose but lose large.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  5. Faith

    #5 – The Words of Jesus is profound. Read the whole chapters again. Matthew stressed the spiritual realms and Luke stressed the physical sides of the matter. In reality, it's really a blessing to go through life's pain and poverty; we come to understand life richly through those. But any better-off Christians have a holy duty to help the poor and needy in the utmost effort to rescue humanity from the physical ills.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Vynn

      I prefer Ezekiel 16:49;

      "Behold, this was the iniquity (sin) of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread (wealth), and abundance of idleness (apathy)was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy (an abesence of charity)."

      Just like the corperate America loved and protected by the Republican ideology; they are wealthy, full of apathy and idleness, and fail to do al they can for those less fortunate. Welcome to the United States of Sodom.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  6. Mike-WA

    Despite the unholy alliance between the evangelical christianity and the Republican Party, there is nothing Christian about these people. It is absurd to think that Jesus would have supported the greed, corruption, selfishness, neglect of the poor, etc that now characterizes the American christian. The contradictions are unbelievable. The evangelical christian movement is nothing more that a puppet organization controlled by very power and very evil men.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  7. Faith

    #4 – Jesus taught us that normal civil odedience must be kept unless it collides with the obedience to God. Abortion and ho-mo-se-xual marriage are against God's will so those must be opposed by all Christians. No distinction of ethics and politics here.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Jesus

      So is partaking of pork. It's also an ABOMINATION on the Bible. Hence YOU are committing the same sin in the eyes of God when you eat a ham sandwich watching NFL Football as Bruce and Reginald doing the horizontal mambo in San Francisco. Why don't you accept ALL of the ways of those Bronze Age dolts and start stoning people to death as well?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Please quote Jesus on the gay lifestyle.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Jpdag

      @ The one calling him/herself Jesus, Peter's vision in Acts 10:9-18 will explain why Christians don't follow dietary restrictions, and Romans 4:5-8 might help provide some background on the new revelation and its relation to the old law.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  8. Michael

    This religion scholar/author is incredibly shallow in his interpretations and questions. Clearly he is a "bullet-point" scholar who does not – or chooses not to – read whole chapters AND whole books. Face it; this guy simply does not like Christian politicians – or rather REPUBLICAN Christian politicians. If he were truly a scholar, he would not have asked such questions in such a narrow way.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Ironic to accuse an author of being narrow when defending Dominionist radicals.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • really?

      relax it's an article to discuss core beliefs, not a theological sermon.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Michael: Another one casting aspersions. But still no answers to Mr Prothero's questions. It seems that's all most "Christians" can do when faced with some very valid criticism.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Sean

      Funny how a verse is only taken out of context when it disagrees with what you think it does. Otherwise it is the word of ‘god’ to be followed and not questioned.

      August 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  9. Faith

    #3 – Read the whole Pentateuch. Killing fetus willfully, not by accident, is murder because we were all once a fetus. The Bible says personal life starts from conception. Psalm 139. Killing enemy combatants in battles for self-defense and protection of the home country and executing vicious criminals by justice are perfectly acceptable and are commanded by God. Those who refuse to do so are bad citizens(or simply fools) and villains' unjust comrades.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Psalm 139? You have to do some head spinning interpretation to pretend that verse supports anything you say. But that's the beauty of the Bible. It can mean anything you want it to mean.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Herb (12th Apostle)

      If killing a fetus is murder, then this God fellow is mass murderer. How could an omnipotent creator cause so many failed pregnancies? Of that's right, I forgot...because "He" doesn't exist.

      By the way...can one of you bible thumpers tell me what language God "spoke" in Genesis Chapter 1; and whom was he talking to? Oh! And did he really create the earth (Day 3) before he created the moon and sun (Day 4)? And why does it proclaim that the moon is a light? It isn't a light...it just reflects the sun's light.

      And that's just the first dang chapter.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Sean

      Your Bible is not a law book. However I can point you to the law book that says abortion is NOT murder. But hey.. who needs facts when you’ve got Faith.

      August 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  10. Lenny Pincus

    BTW, considering that rather bad state of Bachmann's personal finances, I'd say she might qualify as poor, especially if those government programs she has gamed so well dry up.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  11. Reality

    For the "reading challenged":

    Vitiating the entire topic in less than 100 words. Please post on your church doors.

    SAVING 2 BILLION LOST CHRISTIANS:
    THERE WERE NEVER ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS AND THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS I.E. NO EASTER, NO CHRISTIANITY

    SAVING 15.5 MILLION ORTHODOX FOLLOWERS OF JUDAISM:
    ABRAHAM AND MOSES PROBABLY NEVER EXISTED.

    Added details upon request.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  12. Faith

    #2 – Mr. Prothero, read the whole chapter. It's never an exclusive command. Jesus simply prohibited spiritual hypocricy. He Himself prayed in private AND in public – a lot. And all the prophets, kings and disciples in the Bible prayed publicly a lot according to the will of God and the nations got blessed by them. Mr. Perry did right in calling Americans to pray in public. But we must never pray with hypocricy and should pray in private a lot to live as the true people of God.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  13. thegadfly

    I would like to see Perry and Bachmann both huff and puff about God and the Bible until they are blue in the face. I would like to see them both talk themselves right out of the public favor. Then we can be reminded of another Biblical expression: Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  14. Faith

    #1, yes, wives must submit to husbands. Americans, being the Hollywood sheep, enjoy trapping the conservative candidates too much. The late President Kennedy has been wrong and he lied unconsciously. Conscience can never be separated from one's own religion. Why do Americans still naively believe such childish quotes of a politician who simply wanted more votes?

    August 16, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • thegadfly

      And where is your evidence that Kennedy submitted to the Pope's will?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Disagree. If I were president, I could easily support legalizing all drugs, knowing of course that I have absolutely no interest in drugs. However, my personal belief is probably at odds with experts who think that legalizing drugs promotes drug use. I'd have to take that into account. I also assume that no president wants to drop a bomb on a bunch of kids–well, maybe Dubya got a thrill from that–but almost every president since Roosevelt has dropped bombs on kids. A good politician can separate personal conscience from public policy. It's these religious radicals that have infected the Republican Party that have forced this infantile notion of Faith based politics to the fore.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  15. jarstfer

    Related to the litmus test comments – How about this litmus test: if you don't accept evolution as the only rational explanation for the diversity of life on Earth you cannot run for office.

    Related to the Bible quotes, how about thou shalt not bear false witness.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  16. Dreamer96

    I don't like it when a politican thinks they have the right to force their religious beliefs on all of the citizen in their district, city, state, or country. They should give up on politics and become a priest or pastor or monk, or whatever.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Casey

      I'm interested... exactly how are they forcing their beliefs on others? Are you saying that anyone who practices or expresses a belief that is different than yours is forcing it on you? Are you out of your mind?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • E

      When religion is used as reasoning for a law, you are forcing religion. When Creationism is taught in school, you are forcing religion. When you force kids to say "under God" every morning, you are forcing religion. Anytime you invoke God, Jesus, Bible, etc. into a legal argument, you are forcing religion.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  17. Bible Reader

    Exodus 20:12 actually says "honor your father and mother"; the NEXT verse says "thou shall not MURDER", and further in Leviticus, there are distinctions made between killing and murdering.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • sck

      Betcha don't know the ancient Greek word for murder OR kill.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • sck

      Or Hebrew 😉

      August 16, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  18. Mr. Phil

    How about this – we shouldn't NEED a religious litmus test for political office? I'd love to see an Atheist run but I know that'll never happen.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Shinea

      Plenty of them have run, a few of them have WON. They just don't admit that they are atheist.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • dick0645

      Be nice to have an atheist run for office. Trouble is it would be hard to question his beliefs.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • mickey1313

      There are plenity of athiests who win, they just lie and say that they are thiests so the dumbies will vote for them.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • bananaspy

      I disagree, dick0645. It's very easy to question an atheist's beliefs. We still have opinions about moral issues, regardless of where the universe may or may not have come from. Instead of being tangled in contradictory scripture written thousands of years ago in the desert, we assess ideas based on realistic premises and the lessons man has learned throughout history.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • JF

      Reagan was probably an atheist.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  19. Isolate

    Now will you honor the code of equal treatment and ask Mitt Romney for comments about 5 verses from the Book of Mormon? That should be a real hoot! Or maybe simply ask how the huge tribes of the descendants of Hebrew immigrants supposedly built giant cities, lived in them for a thousand years, yet managed to leave not a single scrap of archaeological evidence behind?

    August 16, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  20. Toiny

    As a Christian, I support the 1st ammendment and freedom of religion....regardless of that religion. Obviously, I support and encourage Perry's and Bachmans right to practice their religious beleifs, just as I do anyone else. Where these questions become important is in finding out to what extent they will allow their religious beliefs to interfere in their decision making, as Bush II did while he was in the White house. All Christians should seek to spread christianity to all, but not using the power that comes with residing in the white house. As a side note, I'm not sure that his faith is not the result of a republican trend that he has embraced politically. He was, when he initially started in politics, a democrat, and as his stature in the republican party has grown, so has his faith. Just sayin'.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Toiny

      That is Perry, BTW, who started out as a DEM....didn't want anyone to think I was speaking of Bush.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Justinstl

      SPREAD WHAT WORD? NOTHING WRONG WITH CHRISTIANS BELIEVING in what they do ....But its not right that they or anyone says that they are spreading "the word of God" when no one alive or has ever been alive knows what the "word of God "is You cant say that what is written in the Bible is "the word of God. There is no proof whatsoever that "God is a conscious being who sees or even thinks at all in the first place. and that is why there is no place for religious beliefs in government at all. There is no proof of Gods existence there is only hope of a higher power or better place after this life.
      Dont get me wrong... I am a believer in God...my god not a storybook god like that of whats written in the bible or what Christians believe of their God. but know this people!!!FOR ANYONE TO THINK AND BELIEVE THAT WHATS IN THE BIBLE IS gODS WORD JUST KNOW THAT THAT IS NO DIFFERENT THEN CHARLES MANSON SAYING THAT HE HIMSELF IS GOD!

      August 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
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